In This Section      

Johns Hopkins Health - The Essential Gland

Summer 2009
Issue No. 5

The Essential Gland

Date: June 24, 2009

woman holding glasses

Feeling sluggish and achy? Having a hard time sleeping? Learn why these and other symptoms might mean a problem with your thyroid

For a little guy, our thyroid has a big job. The small, butterfly-shaped gland just below the Adam’s apple produces hormones that influence nearly every organ, tissue and cell in the body. If it’s not working, chances are you’re going to feel it.

But a lot of thyroid disease isn’t recognized, says Johns Hopkins endocrinologist David Cooper, M.D. “Sometimes, the symptoms just seem unrelated,” he says. “That makes it harder to diagnose.”

Tiredness, weight gain or weight loss, trouble sleeping, dried-out skin and hair, and bowel problems are just some of the complaints that might indicate a thyroid condition. And if you’re a woman older than 50, you’re even more likely to have thyroid disease. Cooper also recommends screening for women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. “We know that abnormal thyroid function is associated with miscarriages and lower IQs in babies,” he explains.

When there are symptoms, Cooper says you should talk to your doctor about TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) testing, which could reveal an overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism) thyroid. Hypothyroidism is 10 times more common than hyperthyroidism.

Treatment for hypothyroidism is mostly straightforward, Cooper adds, and usually is helped by medications that increase thyroid hormone levels. Treating an overactive thyroid is more complicated but still safe and effective.

Not identifying and treating thyroid disease may increase the risk for other conditions such as cardiovascular disease and bone loss, as well as mood disorders like depression and anxiety.?

Did You Know?

  • An undiagnosed or improperly treated thyroid condition can sabotage even the best diet and exercise plan.
  • 27 million Americans have thyroid disease; about half of them are undiagnosed.
  • Eight out of 10 people with thyroid disease are women.
  • Six out of every 100 miscarriages are associated with thyroid hormone deficiencies during pregnancy.

Learn more about thyroid disease and other endocrine conditions at, or call 877-546-1872 for information about a physician referral.

Articles in this Issue

Quick Consult

Feature Story

Cover Story

First Person

Second Opinion


Find Physicians Specializing In...